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Battle over historical ‘Rebel Girl’ marker returns to court

picture of the new historical marker
Zoey Knox
The plaintiffs claim the state violated the law and its own policies when it ordered this marker removed based on some politicians’ objections to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s prominent role in the Communist Party.

This story was originally produced by the Concord Monitor. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative.

The ongoing saga of a historical marker in Concord for labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn will return to court Wednesday for a hearing about whether the legal case should continue.

A Merrimack County Superior Court judge is slated to hear arguments over the state’s motion to dismiss a suit filed by the historical marker’s sponsors, Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent. They claim the state violated the law and its own policies when it ordered the marker removed based on some politicians’ objections to Flynn’s prominent role in the Communist Party.

Attorney General John Formella has argued on behalf of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources that Alpert and Sargent lack the legal standing to bring the case to court since they suffered no harm, and so their suit should be dismissed. That is the issue that will be argued on Wednesday. If the suit is not dismissed, a later court date will be held on its merits.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was born in 1890 in Concord. She became famous as a labor leader and feminist fighting for votes for women and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. She joined the Communist Party in 1936, for which she spent time in prison for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of the government. She died in Moscow while visiting the USSR and was honored in Red Square.

A historical marker was placed in May 2023 at the intersection of Court and Montgomery streets, near where Gurley Flynn was born, calling her a “nationally known labor leader” and describing her Communist Party membership. The marker was one of 290 that have been placed around New Hampshire as part of a program dating back to 1958.

This drew criticism from two Republican members of the Executive Council, the five-member body that approves state contracts and many positions, who argued it was inappropriate given Flynn’s communist involvement. The marker was removed two weeks later.

In a legal complaint filed on Aug. 7, Alpert and Sargent’s attorney, Andru Volinsky argued that there is nothing in the law or the guidelines of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources which provide for historical markers to be removed “on grounds of political or personal ideology.”

According to the Division of Historical Resources, historical markers are meant to educate the public about people, places, events, organizations, and innovations that “had a significant impact on its times and has demonstrated historical significance.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information 

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